Commonwealth Journal

October 12, 2013

Crew pulls water-logged airplane from Lake Cumberland

by Heather Tomlinson
Commonwealth Journal

Cumberland Point —

In his time as owner of Divers Den in Somerset, Dean Littrell had worked to salvage many items from the depths of Lake Cumberland.
But in September, he got his first chance to pull a water-logged plane from the water in the Cumberland Point area, located on the Pulaski-Wayne County line. 
“It’s a weird feeling to look at an airplane underwater when you know it shouldn’t be there,” said Littrell.
Littrell said he received a call on Friday, Sept. 6 from the owner of a two-seater plane equipped to land on water. The owner, Littrell said, had earlier that day landed on Lake Cumberland near Cumberland Point, but the plane had been overcome by a large wave. The single-engine went nose-first into the water, and took on too much water for them to pull the plane to safety with the help of a boater.
The pilot of the plane and a passenger were not injured. 
Littrell and several other certified scuba divers took to the water that weekend to find the aircraft. 
“We had a general idea of where the plane was at,” said Littrell. “Once a diver found it, they signaled to the others. Then we assessed the damage and went from there.”
The plane was found under approximately 45 feet of water and upside down. The nose of the plane had sustained significant damage in the incident. Littrell said the team worked for around eight hours to flip the plane back around — with help from the bottom rocks as levers, a rope, and a winching system — and get it out of the water. 
Littrell said officials with the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board surveyed the scene of the incident and examined the plane when it was brought back to shore.
A report filed by the NTSB states the pilot landed the plane with no issue before the aircraft “nosed over” into the water. 
“A post-accident examination by a Federal Aviation Administration inspector revealed substantial damage to the airplane’s nose section,” states the report. “The pilot reported no pre-accident mechanical malfunctions or failures of the airplane that would have precluded normal operation.”
The plane is registered to Monticello Aircraft Corporation in Wayne County. 
Littrell said his team has been called out to retrieve a number of items from the depths of Lake Cumberland, from construction gear dropped into the water during bridge span work, to car keys, to boats and house boats, and even to tractor trailers. 
“It’s a whole lot of fun,” said Littrell, who noted his team at Divers Den brings up from the water an average of five to six boats each year. 
But last month’s quest to pull the plane from the water is something Littrell won’t soon forget. 
“I’ve been bringing up boats for 25 years now, but this is my first plane,” said Littrell.